Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
Holly is also teaching a six-week course called How To Open a Restaurant at The Yard, starting Jan. 30. . Use the code “Bkbased” at checkout to get a special discounted rate of $175 (full-price tickets for the course are $255), through Jan. 30.
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I’m totally disorganized, and it’s ruining my business. I run a bakery that specializes in wedding cakes. My staff is small, I do a lot of the work, and I have two assistants. One works full-time and one works part-time. I keep a calendar at the bakery, and I always manage to meet my deadlines, but so often I find that small things slip through the cracks. I feel like we are constantly working in chaos and always scrambling days before a deadline. Do you have any advice on how I can be more organized? I’m sure I could take on more work and make more money if I could just stop reinventing the wheel every day.
Wading through the weeds
You most certainly could take on more work and make more money if you were more organized. Organization is the key to your business’ success, and it’s one of my favorite topics. It can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. But, be careful. Organizing can be like dieting; if we try to make drastic changes to our routines all in one fell swoop, they’ll never stick. So my recommendation is to start simple and build your process over time. Here are three basic steps to help you get started.
First, write everything down. This seems obvious and like a no brainer, but it is vital for your organization. As business owners, we are constantly bombarded with information and things we need to do. If you are not writing everything down and collecting it all in one place, I’m sure you’re losing some of that information. Remember, our brains are not wired to remember information; they’re wired to process information. So do yourself and your business a favor and go out and buy a notebook, or use a digital notepad, and write everything down. This will be your “master” list.
Second, make a daily to-do list. I prefer to make my to-do list for the following day at the end of my work day. That way, I have peace of mind in the evening and know exactly what needs to be done in the morning when I get to work. Your daily to-do list is essential, it’s going to inform everything you do and how you spend your day. You can use your “master” list (that we talked about in step one) and pick items that you need to accomplish, you’ll have to decide your priorities here. This is why writing everything down in one place is essential. You might have to play around with your to-do list a couple of times before you figure out what works for you. We tend to assume we can accomplish way more than is possible. For items on your list that you don’t finish, push them over to the next day.
Third, create a checklist that can be used for each wedding. If you’re tired of reinventing the wheel every day, a checklist is the best solution. Sure, some orders may have slight variations, but most likely your process is the same for each. Again, don’t rely on yourself to remember all of the steps or tiny details that go into the process. Pilots don’t, surgeons don’t, so why should you? A checklist is most effective when it is detailed and includes all of this information necessary to complete a task. Think of it as writing a giant recipe for creating a wedding cake from the time the order is received to the time it’s picked up for the wedding. Be sure to include all of the steps that need to be taken and all of the tools needed for the entire process. This is a tool that will be shared with your staff as well. That way everyone will be clear on what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and who is responsible. When created correctly, checklists save you time, money and headaches.
Good luck with your organization!! It’s key that you regain control of your business in order to grow. It will also make your work way more enjoyable.